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The Culture of Bullfighting & Bullriding

We had an interesting discussion at my writers critique group meeting about the ancient culture of bullfighting. A concept that is slightly different from our rodeo culture. (I love how writers are able to greet new subject matter with hyper curiosity.) A member of our group is researching the Spanish Matador for a story and I thought you might be interested in reading about the contrast.


The centuries old performance can be traced as far back as ancient Rome where man–against-animal events were popular. Bullfighting is a blood sport deeply entwined into the cultures of Spain, Portugal, and many South American countries. Matadors appear in elaborate, colorful costume and enjoy celebrity status. A special breed of bulls are bred especially for use in the bullfighting ring. They are raised in large pastures with minimal human contact. The symbolism is ancient and unique in that it’s a fight of man (the flamboyant Matador) against Mithra, the god of death (the bull).

The Matador, bullfighter. (

The Matador, bullfighter. (from

Rodeo Bulls

Instead of fighting the bull to its death, the cowboy culture has perfected the art of riding the bull. You can watch this feat of bravery at a Rodeo, Spanish for “round-up”,  a spectator event which is a highly entertaining part of the western culture. I remember watching rodeos since I was old enough to talk.

Bull riding indoor arena Austin, Texas.

Bull riding indoor arena Austin, Texas.

If it weren’t for bull riders, bucking bulls would not exist. Just like the performing bulls in Spain, rodeo bulls are bred specifically for the purpose of the sport and the riders who accept the challenge enjoy celebrity status. The bucking they do is part talent and tendency, and each bull is unique in his deliverance of the performance. Some spin to the right, some spin to the left, or they might come out of the chute with a leap straight up before they begin their bucking. Rodeo bucking bulls are instinctively bred to for one purpose with minimal training. As one bull owner explained to me, “I handle them slowly and work them through the chute so less chance of hurting themselves. I get them used to the sights and sounds.” These powerful animals are athletes in their own right, and are treated like royalty by their owners. Several rodeo stock contractors and the bucking bulls they raise have Instagram accounts. Here is @bushwacker_101.


Bushwacker has his own documentary (CBS Sports Network)

Rodeo today involves seven events and is a national sport involving professional athletes and top performing livestock. Several places claim to be the birthplace of the first rodeo: 1847 in Santa Fe, 1869 in Deer Trail, Colorado, and 1883 in Pecos, Texas.

Pecos, Texas 1883

Located at the crossroads of several major cattle and wagon trails, Pecos, Texas became a hub for the cowboys pushing herds through to the rail heads in Kansas. In Texas, the story goes that young cowhands from two ranches argued in front of Red Newell’s Saloon about who could ride and throw a loop the best. They decided to settle it on July 4th and invite the public. Word got around and 1,000 people gathered on a flat piece of pasture near the courthouse. Cowboys from the Hashknife, W, Lazy Y, and NA ranches competed for $40 in prize money.

Events of those early rodeos were based on the actual work and skills required of ranch cowboys every day. As John Erickson explains in SOME BABIES GROW UP TO BE COWBOYS (University of North Texas Press, 1999):

“He had to be able to go out on the unfenced expanse of West Texas and impose his will upon horned bovine critters who didn’t want to be imposed upon.”

Two cowboys move one of our stubborn bulls to ranch headquarters. We rely on our Registered Angus bulls to perform as well, but it's not a spectator sport.

Two cowboys move one of our stubborn bulls to ranch headquarters. We rely on our Registered Angus bulls to perform as well by passing along ideal genetics to produce the best quality, all natural beef.

Why a cowboy would feel the need to climb on the back of a 1600 pound bull escapes me, but it sure is edge-of-your-seat thrilling entertainment. Several years ago I took my aunt to her first bull riding event. Raised in the Northwest and having lived in large cities her whole life, she said, “I enjoyed that a lot better than I ever thought I would.”

Considering the age old endurance test of man versus beast; a theme that has appeared in countless stories. Learning about different cultures – customs, religion, music, art and entertainment – one of the reasons I love being a writer.


RA Brown registered Black Angus bull, not for bucking but selected for ideal genetics.

Natalie Bright is author of the new Rescue Animal Series of picture books.